Of­fer­ing treats to keep the peace is a com­mon par­ent­ing strat­egy, says cre­ative par­ent­ing ex­pert and au­thor Nikki Bush, but it can back­fire on your child.

Living and Loving - - CONTENTS -

Do you feel that feed­ing your child more means you love her more? Are you trad­ing sweets and treats for good be­hav­iour? Do you give in to your child’s nag­ging for treats just to keep the peace?

Does your child al­ways ne­go­ti­ate around food?

If you an­swered yes to these ques­tions, you’re likely to be us­ing food as an ally in your child’s growth and de­vel­op­ment.

It po­si­tions you, the par­ent, as a friend, or “peer­ent”, rather than the author­ity or lead­er­ship fig­ure in your child’s life. The con­se­quences can be poor habits around food that im­pact your child’s de­vel­op­ment, health, abil­ity to con­cen­trate and reg­u­late her own emo­tions and, ul­ti­mately, to make healthy choices for her­self down the line.

What drives your child’s be­hav­iour?

Preschool chil­dren of­ten can’t ver­balise their phys­i­cal or emo­tional dis­com­fort such as be­ing tired, hun­gry, thirsty, bored or need­ing a par­ent’s at­ten­tion. They also of­ten con­fuse these needs and act out by show­ing frus­tra­tion, ir­ri­ta­tion and even anger. This can re­sult in un­de­sir­able be­hav­iours, in­clud­ing tantrums, cry­ing, be­ing clingy or lash­ing out at their par­ents. They may also refuse to eat, be­come a fussy eater, overeat for com­fort, or ex­pe­ri­ence toi­let train­ing and sleep re­gres­sions. This is your child’s way of ex­ert­ing con­trol when she feels she has none, but could also be sim­ple ma­nip­u­la­tion.

Pester power

Many chil­dren pester their par­ents for the sweets and treats they see in ad­ver­tise­ments and prom­ise they’ll be­have if the par­ent gives in to their re­quest. A stag­ger­ing

70% of par­ents say they give in to nag­ging, be­cause they feel guilty for not spend­ing enough time with their chil­dren, and be­cause they’re too tired to hold their line.

Chil­dren pester their par­ents for three foods the most – ce­re­als, fast foods and en­ergy drinks. Not sur­pris­ingly, 98% of food ad­ver­tis­ing is cen­tred around these items. This kind of fast-burn­ing fuel kicks in quickly, raises blood sugar lev­els and then

rapidly drops them. This is far from ideal for young, grow­ing minds and bod­ies that re­quire pro­tein and nu­tri­ent-dense foods on a reg­u­lar ba­sis for op­ti­mal per­for­mance and emo­tional sta­bil­ity.

Food and your child’s emo­tions

One of the in­creas­ingly com­mon things I see to­day is par­ents hand­ing over food or a de­vice to a child in dis­tress. Un­for­tu­nately, while the child calms down, both these “so­lu­tions” have the po­ten­tial to short-cir­cuit a child’s emo­tional de­vel­op­ment and emo­tional in­tel­li­gence. The minute the de­sired food or de­vice is handed over, you see a child swal­low their dis­tress, ir­ri­ta­tion, frus­tra­tion or anger, and stuff it away.

Chil­dren need to be able to iden­tify their emo­tions and work through them. Be­ing able to re­solve their own emo­tions, with your help and guid­ance, teaches your child to de­velop self-con­trol so she is, ul­ti­mately, able to be­have ap­pro­pri­ately.

If you’re con­tin­u­ally giv­ing in and com­pen­sat­ing, you’re not do­ing your child any favours. Food, in par­tic­u­lar, has a strong emo­tional link, and your child’s emo­tional diet is just as im­por­tant as her nu­tri­tional diet.

If your child feels un­der­stood, “seen” and val­i­dated by you or her pri­mary care­givers, her “emo­tional cup” is filled. When chil­dren feel in­vis­i­ble, when their fun­da­men­tal needs (food, wa­ter, sleep) are not met, and if they’re not get­ting the right kind of at­ten­tion, they’re likely to ma­nip­u­late you by be­com­ing fussy eaters, not eat­ing or over-eat­ing.

If you en­sure your child eats well and reg­u­larly for sus­tained en­ergy, drinks enough wa­ter, gets enough sleep and en­joys reg­u­lar qual­ity time with you, your child will feel val­ued and there will be lit­tle need for her to seek at­ten­tion by be­hav­ing in ways that ir­ri­tate and upset you. It’s im­por­tant to know it’s OK to of­fer your child sweets and a treat oc­ca­sion­ally, but the shock­ing fact is that South African chil­dren are now twice as over­weight as their in­ter­na­tional coun­ter­parts.

Ris­ing child­hood obe­sity

In South Africa, 23% of preschool­ers (two to five years old) and 14% of school­go­ing chil­dren aged six to 14 years are over­weight. This is more than twice the world­wide preva­lence of 6.7%. In a 20-year lon­gi­tu­di­nal study ti­tled “Sex Dif­fer­ences in Obe­sity In­ci­dence”, if the par­tic­i­pants were obese be­tween the ages of four and eight years, then boys were 20 times and girls were 42 times more likely to be obese when they were 16 or 18 years old. Over­weight chil­dren not only have to deal with bul­ly­ing and teas­ing at school, but also the long-term im­pact on their health as their risk of de­vel­op­ing chronic life­style dis­eases like di­a­betes, hy­per­ten­sion, dys­lip­i­daemia (high fat lev­els), chronic in­flam­ma­tion and hy­per­in­su­line­mia in­creases.

The fix

The bot­tom line is South

African chil­dren need to be eat­ing more nu­tri­tion­ally dense foods for sus­tained en­ergy. These foods in­clude av­o­ca­dos, yo­ghurt, peanut but­ter, maas, fruit, veg­eta­bles, nuts and pro­tein. As Lebo Mat­she­goRoda, a nutri­tion­ist and re­searcher at UNISA said in her ad­dress at the sec­ond Yo­ghurt Sum­mit in South Africa in Septem­ber, “In­ad­e­quate nutri­tion in child­hood can equal de­vel­op­ment gaps and re­duce a child’s over­all po­ten­tial.”

We ne­go­ti­ate too much with chil­dren around food and get over­e­mo­tional. If they don’t want to eat some­thing, we need to re­main calm. Take what they don’t want off their plate and what’s left is what they have avail­able to eat. If there is noth­ing left on the plate, they don’t need to starve − there is al­ways bread and wa­ter. Don’t of­fer too many choices ei­ther. Limit these to pro­vide a feel­ing of se­cu­rity and save your own san­ity. TIPS FOR RAIS­ING HEALTHY,


In­volve chil­dren in the cook­ing process from an early age. In­volve them in shop­ping for food and en­gage them in their own nu­tri­tional process. Eat to­gether from a young age – meal­times can be op­por­tu­ni­ties for emo­tional bond­ing mo­ments. LL

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